Tag Archives: Zai Yu

Leadership lessons from Confucius: what’s done is done

what's done is done

哀公問社於宰我。宰我對曰:「夏后氏以松,殷人以柏,周人以栗,曰,使民戰栗。」子聞之,曰:「成事不說,遂事不諫,既往不咎。」
Duke Ai asked which wood should be used for the altar pole of the land god. Zai Yu replied: “The Xia used pine; the Yin used cypress; the Zhou used chestnut. It’s said that they wanted it to make people tremble with fear.” When Confucius heard of this, he said: “What’s done is done; no need to dredge up the past; let bygones be bygones.” (1) (2)

When someone does something dumb like Zai Yu here, it’s best to move on and forget that it ever happened. What’s done is done. There’s no point in upsetting yourself by bringing up the past. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: what’s done is done

Three years of mourning

宰我問:「三年之喪,期已久矣!君子三年不為禮,禮必壞;三年不為樂,樂必崩。舊穀既沒,新穀既升;鑽燧改火,期可已矣。」子曰:「食夫稻,衣夫錦,於女安乎?」曰:「安!」「女安則為之。夫君子之居喪,食旨不甘,聞樂不樂,居處不安,故不為也。今女安,則為之。」宰我出。子曰:「予之不仁也!子生三年,然後免於父母之懷。夫三年之喪,天下之通喪也;予也,有三年之愛於其父母乎?」
Zai Yu asked: “Three years of mourning for your parents: this is a long time. If a leader doesn’t practice the rites for three years, the rites are sure to decay; if he doesn’t practice music for three years, music is sure to collapse. As the grain from last year’s crop is used up, grain from this year’s crop ripens, and the flint for lighting the fires is changed with each season. One year of mourning is surely enough.” Confucius said: “Would you be comfortable eating your fine food and wearing your fine clothes then?” “Absolutely.” “In that case, go ahead! When a leader is in mourning fine food is tasteless to him, music offers him no pleasure, and the comforts of home give him no peace, so he prefers to do without these pleasures. But if you think you will be able to enjoy them, go ahead.” Zai Yu left. Confucius said: “Zai Yu has no goodness! During the first three years after a child is born, he doesn’t leave the arms of his parents. Three years of mourning is a custom that is followed throughout the world. Didn’t Zai Yu receive three years of love from his parents?”

The three-year mourning period after the death of a parent was a tradition from the Zhou Dynasty, though it must have been honored significantly more in breach rather than in practice. Even sons from the richest and most powerful of families would have found it extremely difficult to take so much time out of their official, military, or family responsibilities – unless of course they wanted to establish a reputation as a beacon of morality or needed to spend some time in the background to cook up some nefarious scheme to further their interests. Continue reading Three years of mourning